The Enduring Romance Of Ballet And Fashion

Now more than ever, dance and fashion seem to be locked in a romance with each other. From Diane Von Furstenburg’s Ballets Russes inspired AW14 runway, to the tribal dancers who opened Rick Owens’ lauded SS14 collection, the two art forms are most definitely arm-in-arm. And while the fashion world has been flirting with dance – particularly ballet – for decades, the relationship is at an all-time high, having permeated society through multiple aspects. It seems, at first glimpse, to be an obvious relationship given the aesthetic nature of both ballet and fashion. They are both art forms that rely on our visual appreciation after all. But the history and development of this union is far more nuanced than one might first presume. 

Ballerinas have always had a glamorous image, both on and off stage. Whether it was Fonteyn in fur or Bussell in a leather jacket, famous ballerinas have often had an iconic off-stage style. When Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes arrived on the stage in the early 20th century, the eclectic and wild style he brought with it was revolutionary, and still inspires fashion today. This is hardly surprising given that Diaghilev commissioned Coco Chanel, Pablo Picasso, and Salvadore Dali to collaborate with him on bringing his aesthetic vision to life. From Yves Saint Laurent’s 1976 Ballets Russes inspired catwalk , to Zandra Rhodes’ current collections, and even the eccentric style star Iris Apfel, Diaghilev’s Ballets Russes style is still being re-imagined today. 

Ballet has often been associated, however unfortunately, with the exclusivity. For audiences of a ballet performance it has long been considered appropriate to wear one’s black tie best. Even Diana Vishneva, the Russian-born international ballet star, was recently snapped with her custom made Louis Vuitton touring luggage, proving that glamour is still the most common link between the worlds of fashion and ballet. It’s unsurprising, given that professional Russian ballet dancers are well known for their glamorous and elegant ballet class look. Unlike the professional dancers working for companies in America and parts of Europe – who tend to wear mismatched bits of warm up gear reminiscent of Rei Kawakubo’s bag lady aesthetic – Russian ballet dancers are typically extremely polished from bun to shoe. Despite this idiosyncrasy, all ballet dancers are connected by their footwear. A pair of nude satin pointe shoes are a beautiful representation of ballet’s dichotomy of grace and grit. And ballet flats – the soft, satin slipper that all young girls remember from their first lessons – have been reincarnated to become possibly the most ubiquitous women’s shoe of all time. From Chanel and Marc Jacobs to Bloch, the ballet flat is everywhere. It is the entry point for the now multi-faceted business that is ballet and fashion.

When Sarah Jessica Parker coquettishly strutted down a New York City sidewalk wearing a pink singlet and white tulle tutu in the opening sequence of Sex And The City, she ignited a re-emergence of the ultra-feminine in fashion. And to most of society, nothing could be considered more feminine than a female ballet dancer wearing diaphanous layers of floating tulle. Since Carrie Bradshaw’s fashion-frenzied life entered our homes, ballet style has trickled down from the iconic fashion houses of Oscar De La Renta and Valentino into our high street stores. Even the humble bun has become one of the most popular hairstyles of recent memory, portraying the chic and clean look that ballet dancers so effortlessly radiate. 

Alongside being innately elegant, ballet dancers also typically have the physique akin to fashion models. Long necks and legs, slender waists, and impeccable posture have led some of the world’s most prominent and talented designers to work with professional ballet companies. In September 2012, Valentino Garavani designed the costumes for the New York City Ballet’s Fall Gala. It seemed a natural fit given Valentino’s love of classical dance and his position as one of the most established master couturiers of feminine and beautiful womenswear, and a designer who has amassed much critical acclaim and attention. The following year, Joseph Altuzarra created the costumes for the New York City Ballet’s 2013 Spring Gala. 

Locally, it seems we are more in love than ever with the union of fashion and ballet. Recently, Akira Isogawa designed the costumes for Graeme Murphy’s recent production of Romeo and Juliet for The Australian Ballet, which garnered much attention from both the worlds of ballet and fashion. Toni Maticevski, another prominent Australian womenswear designer, designed the costumes for Tinted Windows, a work choreographed by Alice Topp for The Australian Ballet’s 2013 Bodytorque season. The list of collaborations goes on, and will no doubt continue to do so. Luckily for both worlds, the romance between fashion and ballet is here to stay.

By Annie Carroll
Annie Carroll previously danced with The Birmingham Royal Ballet and The Australian Ballet. She currently works for Toni Maticevski as Online Co-ordinator and has written for The Age and Behind Ballet.

Image Sources: Ballet Russe Poster, Diane Von Furstenburg runway (Vogue), Fashion Designer Akira Isogawa for The Australian Ballet, Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City (HBO), Valentino for New York City Ballet (Harpers Bazaar).

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